Automatic now Pennie less
THE Automatic may now be Pennie-less but they are far from broke.
The Cardiff-based band, who scored a No.4 chart hit with Monster last year, split with their not-so-dearly departed keys player Alex Pennie in September, and the animosity had been brewing.
“Basically, he wanted to leave since January and we wanted him to leave because you can’t be in a band with someone who doesn’t want to be in a band,” said The Automatic’s frontman Rob Hawkins, reclining in his shaggy new beard at The Heath pub in Cardiff.
“I think everyone knew it was the right thing to do because he didn’t enjoy being who he was.”
What didn’t he enjoy about it?
“You’d have to ask him really,” said guitarist James Frost.
“Because we never got a straight answer out of him on it,” laughed Hawkins.
“Ninety per cent of the time we just didn’t understand what was wrong with him, but he had no reason to take it out on us.
“He put himself in the limelight wherever he could and then whinged about it no end.
“I think at first he liked it (the attention) but then he felt he had to keep it up, because he couldn’t just suddenly be quiet, and he felt he had to be that person all the time.”
Frost, leaning forward on his wooden chair, said, “We tried to keep the four of us going as a live band for as long as we could for the fans, at least until the end of the tour in August, until there was a natural break.”
So leave he did, to live in America, and in truth Pennie’s absence will have no negative impact.
In his place, but not a direct musical replacement, is Paul Mullen, formerly the frontman of experimental rock darlings yourcodenameis:milo.
“I heard about the Pennie situation and a few texts and e-mails were exchanged,” said the behatted and affable Sunderland lad Mullen, who had previously worked with The Automatic on the YCI:M side project Print Is Dead Vol 1.
“I came down to the studio for a few days to make sure the writing process was going to be a good one, that I could write with these lads, and it all worked very smoothy.”
The Automatic’s commercial indie-pop and Mullen’s more exploratory stance don’t seem immediate bedfellows, but Hawkins says they gravitating towards each other.
“There was an element of gimmickry to what we did on the first album but this time the music was already getting a bit more involved.
“It wasn’t quite prog-rock but it was more complex, although still pop.”
Frost agreed: “When we started rehearsing we had eight or nine songs and then Paul came in with this huge collection of riffs, we started playing together and it just worked.”
Mullen nodded: “And perhaps Milo went off the tracks a little bit sometimes, but now these boys have got my reins and they pull me back when I wander off.
“It’s good having boundaries, ones that you can push.”
The band will decamp to Los Angeles in January for two months to record the new album, picking from the 20 or so songs they already have and the ones they will write in the interim.
They anticipate returning to the stage in March with the album release slated for May.
So far from being broken by the loss, Pennie’s departure looks to have made The Automatic richer than before.
In 2008 they will surprise people.